New research reveals the unique contribution of volunteers in ending global poverty

New research reveals the unique contribution of volunteers in ending global poverty

Valuing Volunteering report cover | VSO

New research on the valuable – yet often understated - contribution of volunteers in the fight against poverty is being released today by VSO and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

The ‘Valuing Volunteering’ project, commissioned by VSO and conducted in partnership with IDS and volunteer researchers, explores how volunteers impact community development and social change in developing countries, as well as factors that can prevent them from doing so.

The research was undertaken in Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal and the Philippines between 2012 and 2014 in the areas of health, education, governance and the environment. It engaged more than 3,700 participants, including community, national and international volunteers, government officials, young people, community leaders, teachers and health practitioners – making this the largest study of its kind to date.

The research findings highlight that it is not just what volunteers do, but how they support change that makes their contribution unique. It found that volunteering has a unique role to play in contributing to sustainable development in the following ways;

  • Inclusion: extends the reach of public services to the poorest and most marginalised
  • Innovation: creates new forms of collaboration that lead to social innovation
  • Ownership: strengthens local ownership of development processes
  • Participation: creates a pathway to people’s participation and active citizenship
  • Inspiration: modelling different norms

VSO Dr. Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive of VSO says:  “There are 150 million* volunteers in the world – this is a phenomenal number of people making a significant and powerful impact in the fight against poverty.  This new research demonstrates the role of volunteering in placing the knowledge and experiences of the poorest and most marginalised at the forefront.   It will help to inform the work of VSO and the wider development sector and comes at a time when the Post 2015 development framework is signalling a new imperative to ‘leave no one behind.’  Volunteers will play a vital role in creating this reality.”

Lead IDS researcher Danny Burns said:  “This two-year action research project has found that it is not just what volunteers do, but how they support change that makes their contribution unique. Their very embeddedness within communities and organisations helps create strong personal bonds and relationships that can lead to a different kind of collaboration, one that transforms volunteers’ image as “experts” into an experience that is based on a mutual appreciation of each other’s knowledge, skills and networks.’

“So, whilst volunteering can have a unique role to play, it has to be supported in the right ways in order for it to do so. We very much hope that this research can inform learning and practice across the development sector. At IDS, collaboration based on mutual learning, respect and appreciation is at the heart of our strategic focus on engaged excellence as we believe it is vital for reducing inequalities in the way knowledge is produced and shared,” he added.

VSO and the Institute of Development Studies are launching the Valuing Volunteering report, ‘The role of volunteering in sustainable development,’ officially at the House of Lords in London at 6pm on Tuesday 17th March.

Speakers are Dr.  Philip Goodwin - Chief Executive of VSO International, Melissa Leach - Director of the Institute of Development Studies, Baroness Hilary Armstrong – former Minister of Social Exclusion and former VSO Volunteer and Cath Nixon - VSO Volunteer and Public Health Nurse.

For further information, please see summary report [PDF] and see VSO’s paper on Volunteerism and the Post 2015 agenda here.

To book an interview, please contact Claire Gilderson, VSO Press Office on:

or call +44 (0) 20 8780 7640 / +44 (0) 7500 918 478.

Editor's notes

VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. VSO brings people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and ultimately change lives to make the world a fairer place.

The Institute of Development Studies is a leading global organisation which facilitates international development research, teaching and communications. The Valuing Volunteering project is conducted in partnership with the IDS Participation cluster.

For more information on the Valuing Volunteering project, please see

*Volunteer number statistics source : Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies